This is an excellent article by Dave Hill of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Colorado, defining the words in common use within the church broken up under various headings.  This was originally written for and displayed on their website.  There are two downloadable versions: That as shown below which has been adapted to suit the Anglican church and the full Episcopalian version as originally written.  With all the work that Dave has put into this article, we must insist that he is given full credit in any publication.


General terms

These are general terms used in the church that don't fall into the other categories.

Alms:  Money or other offerings of the people for the work of the Church.

Anglican:  Literally, "English."  The term usually refers to the Church of England and the worldwide assemblage of autonomous churches in communion with it.  That assemblage, is known as the Anglican Communion.  There are nearly 40 self-governing -- and largely self-supporting -- provinces of the Communion, located in more than 164 countries, making up 75 million people world-wide.  Its emblem is shown to the right.

Apostolic Succession: Episcopalians, along with other Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and some other Christian sects, trace their bishops' spiritual heritage in an unbroken line back to the first apostles of Jesus, which is why all Episcopal bishops are consecrated by three other bishops. The importance of the historic episcopate is a major point in ecumenical discussions. 

Canons: From the Greek kannon, "measuring stick".  These are the written rules governing church policy, structure and procedure. There are national canons set by the General Convention, and each diocese has its own as well.
     The Canon can also refer to the official list of books contained in the Bible.

Catechism: A summary of religious doctrine often in the form of questions and answers.  The catechism (found in the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 844ff.) is intended to give an outline for instruction in the Episcopal faith, or to provide a brief summary of  the Church's teaching for an inquiring stranger who picks up a Prayer Book.

Cathedral: From the Greek cathedra, "seat."  The term came from the bishop's throne or cathedra.  The church where that throne was kept became known as the cathedral church, and later just as the cathedral. 
     In present usage, a diocese's cathedral is the church where the bishop makes his headquarters. The city in which the cathedral is located is the "see city." Some dioceses do not have a cathedral.
     If the cathedral is also a parish church, its rector is referred to as the Dean of the Cathedral.

Catholic: From the Greek katholikos ( "universal").  It usually refers, when it begins with a small c, to all Christians, as in the Nicene Creed ("We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church").  In early Christian writings it is a synonym for Christian. The Church is catholic in the sense that there are no restrictions on who can join; it is open to everyone in every place.  Sometimes it is used with a capital C when the writer is referring to the Roman Catholic Church.

Church:  From the Greek word kurios ( "master, lord"), in its form  kuriakon ( "pertaining to, or belonging to the lord"), to refer to the building used by the Lord's people. 
The French and other Romance languages get their word for church from the Greek word
ekklesia ( "called out").  In French, this became eglise, which means an assembly of people.  Interestingly, the Bible always uses this term, ekklesia, not kuriakan, considering the church as its people, not the building. 
     When the word is capitalized, it usually refers to the universal, or catholic church.

Church of England:  The official name of the original Church in England, the Anglican Church. Starting in the reign of King Henry VIII, the Church, in England, broke formal ties with Rome and became the Church of England. Sometimes referred to as the "C of E."

Convocation:  A special gathering of a religious or academic group, usually marked by use of special vestments, liturgy, procession, etc. Also the name of a special group of ordained persons.  Sometimes the meeting of all the clergy of a diocese is called a convocation.

Deanery:  An organizational unit between a parish and a diocese.  Not all dioceses are divided into deaneries, and in some dioceses, deaneries are known as regions.  Deaneries are overseen by a dean; if there is more than one bishop in a diocese, each bishop may be responsible for a separate deanery.

Diocese: This is the basic local unit of the Church, after an administrative unit (similar to a county) in the Roman Empire.  A diocese is made up of several local congregations (parishes and missions) with a bishop as its chief pastor. A state may have one or several dioceses.  Some dioceses are further split into deaneries or regions.  

The legislative body of the diocese is an annual convention of clergy and lay deputies from each congregation.  Dioceses also have diocesan councils which function similar to the vestry on the local level.

Executive Committee:  In many parishes, the rectors, wardens and the parish treasurer form an executive committee. They meet separately from the whole vestry, between official vestry meetings.

Seasons, Feasts and Holy Days

The following section describes various special dates, festivals, and services around the year.

The Church Year is divided into Seasons. There are six seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the season after Pentecost. Each season has one or more associated Colours used for vestments and decoration. The seasons are dependent upon two cycles of feasts and holy days: the first date of Christmas (Dec. 25), and the movable date of Easter.

The church new year begins with the season of Advent, beginning four Sundays before Christmas day.

Christmas is a 12-day season that begins Christmas day and continues to January 6th.

Epiphany is both a day (Jan. 6) and a season, and represents the manifestation (epiphany) of the gospel into the world. It can last up to 9 weeks.

Lent begins 46 days (6 weeks) before Easter with Ash Wednesday, and is a time of preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Easter is a six week (50 day) season which ends on Pentecost Sunday.

The season after Pentecost runs from Pentecost to Advent.

Advent: From the Latin adventus ("coming"), the period celebrating the coming of Jesus at Christmas. The beginning of the Church Year and the four weeks leading up to and concluding with Christmas (the entire Christmas season). The Colours for Advent are violet or blue.

An Advent Wreath is a special wreath (circle of greens) containing five candles used in churches and homes as reminders of the four Sundays before Christmas. Four of the candles are arranged in a circle, the fifth -- a white candle -- is placed in the center. By tradition one additional candle is lit each Sunday until on the fourth Sunday all four candles are lighted. On Christmas, the fifth candle is lighted.

All Saints' Day: November 1; a feast day in the church in commemoration of all the known and unknown saints.

Ascension: The Feast commemorating the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. This Feast is forty days after Easter and always occurs on a Thursday. The Colour for Ascension are white or gold.


Ash Wednesday: A day of special devotion which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a period of spiritual discipline, fasting and moderation in preparation for Holy Week and Easter. It is one of the most important days of the church year. In the Ash Wednesday service, ashes are lightly smeared onto the forehead of a person by the priest or bishop, as a reminder that "dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return." (BCP pp. 264ff)

Candlemas: The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, February 2nd. The term comes from the tradition of blessing candles on this feast and carrying them in procession as a symbol of the "Light to Lighten the Nations" (see Nunc Dimittis).

Christmas: The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ celebrated on December 25th.

The Christmas Season extends through January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Also known as the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Easter: Both the Sunday celebrating the Lord's Resurrection and the season of Fifty Days following. Easter is always the first Sunday after a full moon that falls on or after March 21. It therefore always occurs between March 22 and April 25. The odd dating is based on the Lunar Calendar used by the Jews, which then sets the date for Passover, the meal celebrated at the Last Supper.

Epiphany: The Feast of the Manifestation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (i.e., celebrating the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus). It is observed on January 6th. The Epiphany Season continues until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Fast: A day of special devotion observed by acts of discipline and self-denial. Fasting Days include Ash Wednesday, other weekdays of Lent and of Holy Week, Good Friday and all other Fridays of the year, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter seasons, and any Feasts of our Lord which occur on a Friday.



Oct 2007

Feast:  A day of celebration associated with the life of Our Lord, of the Saints, or days of thanksgiving (see BCP pp. 15-18).  The Principal Feasts are Easter Day, Ascension Day, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints' Day (Nov. 1), Christmas Day, and the Epiphany.

Fifty Days of Easter, The:  From the Great Vigil of Easter up to and including the Day of Pentecost.

Great Vigil of Easter:  The Great Vigil of Easter is the climax of Holy Week and the beginning of the Fifty Days of Easter celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord.  It begins at sunset on Holy Saturday, and runs until dawn on Easter Sunday. 

Good Friday: The Friday before Easter Day on which the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ is celebrated (BCP pp. 276ff).

Holy Saturday:  The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Holy Week:  The most important period of the church year, from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday.  There are many special services during this time (BCP pp. 270-283).  The week commemorates our Lord's Passion and Death. It is also known as Passion Week.  It consists of:

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

 Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week

 Maundy Thursday

 Good Friday 

 Holy Saturday


Lent: The 40-day period of fasting, sobriety and meditation following Ash Wednesday, recalling the period of Christ's fasting and meditation in the wilderness, and in penitence and preparation for Holy Week.  (BCP pp. 264-65). 
     The term is derived from an old word for "lengthen," which referred to the lengthening days of early spring. 

Lessons and Carols: The Festival of Lessons and Carols

Maundy Thursday:  Thursday in Holy Week (see BCP p. 274).  The name is from Latin mandatum ("command"), referring to Christ's commandment concerning foot-washing.  It is also the day on which the first Lord's Supper was celebrated.

Palm Sunday: The Sunday of the Passion (BCP pp. 270-73), the Sunday before Easter. In the Episcopal Church, members of the congregation carry real palms during the service.
     In some churches, the tradition is that palms from one year are saved, dried and later burned to make the ashes used at the next year's Ash Wednesday service.

Passover: A Jewish festival commemorating the escape of the Jews from Egypt.

Pentecost:  The conclusion of the Fifty Days of Easter and the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.  Formerly known in the Episcopal Church as Whitsunday.
     Also refers, as a season, to the Sundays and Weekdays following the Day of Pentecost and ending on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.  During this season the Church especially emphasizes the Holy Spirit's empowerment of all Christians for ministry to each other and the communities and world in which they live.

Whitsunday:  The old name for Pentecost Sunday, the day described in Acts 2. As of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the day became known as Pentecost.

Whitsuntide:  A period starting ten days after Ascension Day, ending the Easter season, leading up to Pentecost (Whitsunday).

Items used in services

Many specialized terms are used for the items used in worship services, especially a Eucharist service.

Alms Basin:  A large metal plate into which the money offerings (alms) of the people are placed before they are presented to the celebrant.  A.k.a., the collection plate.

Altar Book:  The large book containing the texts from The Book of Common Prayer / Common Worship and music for the celebrant at the Eucharist and other liturgies.  Also known as the Missal.

Altar Cloth:  This will be covered in a future magazine titled ‘fair linen’

Altar Cross:  A crucifix or cross which stands upon the altar or hangs above it

Aspergillum:  A branch, brush, or perforated metal globe, with a handle, used for sprinkling holy water.  This is usually done during solemn renewals of baptismal vows, as a reminder of the baptismal font.

Blessed Sacrament:  The consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist which are the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Boat: A small container, with a lid and spoon, in which incense is kept before it is placed in the thurible.

Book of Common Prayer: The primary guide for worship in the Episcopal Church.  Most Anglican churches have their own version. Also called "The Prayer Book" or the "BCP".  It consists of classic and contemporary prayers, devotions, services and psalms designed to allow the entire Church to worship in common union.  
     The first Anglican
Book of Common Prayer was written in English in 1549 by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, drawing on material from a number of Latin books and manuals then used to conduct services.  

     While the revision of the Prayer Book is often a matter of controversy between conservatives that want things to stay the same and liberals who want things to change, even the preface of the original Anglican BCP noted "it is but reasonable that upon weighty and important considerations, according to the various exigency of times and occasions, such changes and alterations should be made therein, as to those that are in place of Authority should, from time to time, seem either necessary or expedient."

Bread:  One of the two elements of communion, signifying to us the Body of Christ. As Scripture reminds us, "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body." (Matthew 26:26)

Burse:  From the Greek byrsa ("bag").  A burse is one of the furnishings of the altar for communion, and is a pocket case made from two squares of some rigid material covered in cloth of the seasonal Colour. The burse sits on top of the chalice, paten and veil, and serves to hold a corporal. Often, the burse also serves to hide an extra purificator.

Chalice:  From Latin calix ("cup").  A chalice is the cup used to contain the wine (and a little water) used at Communion.

Charcoal:  Substance upon which incense is burned in the thurible. There are various types of "self-lighting" charcoals.

Chrism:  A mixture of olive oil and balsam, blessed by a bishop, and sometimes used at baptisms, confirmations, ordinations and some blessings of altars and other church fixtures. Chrism is not the same as other holy oils such as those used for the unction of the sick. No balsam is added to oil used for unction.

Ciborium:  A cup that resembles a chalice, except that is has a removable lid. A ciborium may be used to hold communion wafers during the Eucharist, or to hold the Reserve Sacrament in the aumbry or tabernacle.

Corporal:  From Latin corpus ("body").  A large, square piece of linen laid on top of the altar cloth (or fair linen) at Communion, upon which the chalice and paten are placed. The corporal may be kept in the burse when not in use on the altar.

Cruet:  From old French crue ("vial, glass").  A cruet is the vessel (glass or metal) used to hold the water and wine for the Eucharist.  

Dust-Cover:  A cloth placed over the altar cloth at times when the altar is not in use.

Elements:  The bread and wine of Holy Communion.  Also sometimes used to refer to the water in Baptism.

Ewer:  A pitcher most often used to water at baptisms or for washing feet during Maundy Thursday, but can also be used in place of a cruet or a flagon at Communion.  

Fair Linen:  A white linen cloth cover for the altar, used during Eucharist.  Also known as the Altar Cloth.

Flagon:  A large metal or ceramic pitcher that is bigger than a cruet and is used instead of, or in addition to cruets at larger celebrations of Communion.

Frontal:  A covering for the altar, usually of the same material as the vestments or of the liturgical Colour of the season or feast. It may either cover all sides of the altar, or only the front. The altar cloth is spread over the frontal.

Gospel Book:  The book (usually with an ornamented cover) which contains the Gospel lessons appointed for use at the Eucharist. It is carried in procession (at the entrance) and at the proclamation of the Gospel by the deacon or other reader. "It is desirable that the lessons and Gospel be read from a book or books of appropriate size and dignity" (BCP, p. 406).

Host:  Literally, "a sacrificial victim."  The consecrated bread part of the Holy Communion.  In some churches a wafer is used as the host. The larger host the priest breaks at the fraction is called a Priest's Host.  

Holy Water:  Water blessed by a bishop or priest for use in blessing the people, in the setting apart of objects for use in the church, or for other liturgical purposes.  Holy Water is often used at the Burial of the Dead, at Baptism, at Weddings, and at other times at the discretion of the priest.

Hymnal:  Its goals are:

To present "Christian faith with clarity and integrity."

 To "reflect the nature of today's Church."

 To extend the ecumenical spirit by including music from other denominations and faiths.

 To "embody both practical and esthetic" values.

Whilst the Hymnal is provided as a resource for congregations across the Church,  many churches also supplement it with other musical material.

Incense:  From the Latin incendere ("to burn"), incense is the "smell" element in "bells & smells".  It is a fragrant (and now usually hypo-allergenic) powder burned in a small dish or pot (thurible) with charcoal.  It is used during the service or in the processions as a sign of prayer, honor, and solemnity at liturgical functions.
     Some say incense is used to recall of one of the three gifts of the Wise Men to the Christ Child.  Scripture commends its usage, particularly in Psalm 141 ("Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense"). 

Intinction cup:  A small cup or chalice which may be used by those who wish to intinct the Host in wine, rather than drinking from the cup.  Some congregations use this in addition to the regular chalices. 

Lavabo:  Basin used for the ceremonial washing of the hands (also called lavabo or ablutions) of the celebrant.  Also called the lavabo bowl.  
lavabo towel is a piece of cloth, usually linen, presented to the celebrant by the server at the lavabo to dry the fingers. It is presented hung over the server's left arm.

Lenten Array:  In some places, the use of sack-cloth or similar fabric in place of purple for vestments, coverings, and hangings during Lent and Holy Week.

Lenten Cross:  In some places, a plain wooden processional cross (painted red with black edges) used during Lent and Holy Week.

Lesser Feasts and Fasts:  A book containing the collects, lessons, psalms, and short biographical material for the minor saints' days and observances found in the calendar of The Book of Common Prayer.

Mace:  A staff or baton usually embellished with metal used as an insignia of office.  It is sometimes carried by a verger during a procession.

Missal Stand:  The stand (or, in some places, a pillow) upon which the Altar Book rests when in use at the altar.

Monstrance:  A receptacle for the Blessed Sacrament used at Benediction.

Occasional Services, Book of: A book containing optional services and prayers authorized for use by the Episcopal Church.

Paschal Candle:  From the Hebrew Pesach ("Passover"). A very large, white candle in a tall holder.  When in use it is placed in a prominent display in the epistle side of the sanctuary.

Pall:  A stiffened square of linen (or other) white cloth that is placed over the chalice to keep objects from falling into the wine. The term may refer also to the cloth covering the casket or urn during the Burial of the Dead.

Paten:  From Greek patane ("shallow vessel"). The paten is the plate used to contain the consecrated bread during a Communion.

Processional Cross:  Large cross carried by the crucifer at the lead of the procession into and recession out of the church during a Eucharist.

Psalter:  A collection of the Psalms, a body of liturgical poetry, designed for vocal, congregational use, whether by singing or reading.  The Psalter is in the BCP (pp. 581 ff.).

Purificator:  From Latin purus (pure) and facare (to make). A purificator is a small piece of white linen used at ablutions to clean the chalice, or during  Communion to wipe the chalice rim.

Pyx:  A small container used for transporting the Host. Most commonly used by a priest or LEM when taking Communion to a sick person or shut-in. called a pyxis

Reserved Sacrament:  Consecrated bread and wine kept in the church building after a Communion service, primarily for distribution to the sick.

Sanctus Bell:  The actual name for the bell is a "sacring bell," but most refer it as a "sanctus bell" because it is usually rung at the time of the Sanctus, at elevations, and other important times. In medieval times, when the service was said in Latin and the masses spoke English, the bell was rung at these times as a signal that it was time to pay attention.
     In some congregations, the Sanctus Bell is run during the Eucharistic Prayer during the Words of Institution:  "Do this in remembrance of me."

Shell, Baptismal:  The metal or ceramic cup or dish used to pour water during the administration of Holy Baptism.

Taper:  A long narrow wax-covered wick that is put into the candle lighter.  Also a small candle for use by members of the congregation at vigils and other services.

Thurible:  The container in which incense is burned.  It is handled by a thurifer.

Veil:  From Latin vela  ("sail, curtain"). In the Church, the veil refers to the solid cloth, in seasonal Colour, that covers the chalice and paten at the Eucharist (also known as the Chalice Veil).  The burse (with the corporal inside) rests on top of the veiled chalice.

Votive candle:  A devotional candle placed in a church or chapel in some Churches.  Votive candles are usually small, short candles in a special glass holder.

Wafer:  The bread part of the Lord's Supper signifying to us the Body of Christ, it is often an unleavened, and very thin cracker-like substance. After the wafer is consecrated, it is usually called the Host. Sometimes the wafer is imprinted with a cross, sometimes it is smooth. 
     Wafers that will serve as priest's hosts are larger than the people's hosts, and can range from one inch to several inches in diameter. The people's host is usually about a half inch in size.

Wine:  The beverage portion of the Lord's Supper. As Scripture reminds us, "And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament which is shed for many, for the remission of sins." (Matthew 26:27-28)   Wine and vineyards were symbols of happiness and signs of God's blessing in the Promised Land.  

During the Eucharist, a little water is mixed with the wine.  This has roots in historical practicality and theological insight.  Historically, wine carried by the traveler was mixed with the water of the desert to purify it. Theologically, the ordinariness of our lives (water) is mingled with the extraordinariness of the Divine Life (wine).  This also serves to remind us of the dual nature of Christ, both God and human being, and that out of his side flowed water and blood.


Clothing and Vestments

Even in a less formal, modern era, Episcopal clergy wear many special articles of clothing, particularly during worship services.  This section gives the names of many of these items.
     The term
vestments is from the Latin vestis ("garment").  Late in the third century writers begin to mention special garb for liturgical actions. Sts. Athanasius, Jerome and John Chrysostom all mentioned liturgical garb for clerics. They particularly referred to the orarion, a primitive stole. The Council of Laodicea (343-381) often referred to vestments for sacred functions.
     Today's vestments have their origins in the ordinary clothes of the later Greco-Roman world. The alb, a long loose-fitting garment, was worn around the house. The more decorative chasuble was worn over it in public. Attending a service in the fourth century you would have seen the priest vested much as today, but most of the people in the church would dressed much the same.  

Between the sixth and ninth century, secular fashion began to reflect the occupation of a person; it was possible to tell what one did by what he or she wore. The Church reflected this change by not changing the style of their garments. Vestments, then, came to us as a result of the clergy being "out of style" when it came to fashion.

Alb:  From the Latin for "white".  A long, sleeved robe, usually white or undyed, worn by many priests when celebrating communion.  It is generally worn over daily clothes and the cassock, but under other vestments.  It is derived from the under-tunic worn in Roman times.

Amice:  A large square or rectangular piece of white cloth with strings attached. It is worn under the alb as a hood, over the shoulders, or collar. The strings are wound around the neck before being tied around the chest and waist.

Cassock:  A black robe worn over street clothes by priests serving at the altar, usually with a white over-garment called a surplice.  It buttons in front, and should be long enough to cover the ankles.  In more "high" churches, it may also be worn by laity serving during a worship service, such as lectors, vergers, chalice ministers and others.
     Bishops' cassocks are usually purple.  A Canon may wear a black cassock with red piping, or (with permission) may wear a purple cassock. Deans and archdeacons may wear black cassocks with red or purple piping.
     Before 1900, most formal clothes were black and most work clothes were not dyed. Thus the main historic distinction between albs and cassocks is that albs are working clothes and cassocks are formal clothes, so if the alb expresses humility, the cassock expresses respect

Cassock-alb:  A more modern variation of the alb, this has become the de facto standard Eucharistic garment for many, if not most Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic clergy.  A combination of the amice and alb, it is worn in place of cassock and surplice or amice, alb, and cincture. It is normally white and should be long enough to cover the ankles. A cincture around the waist should be worn with this vestment, although it is not essential. A surplice is not worn over the cassock-alb, but a tunic may be.

Chasuble:  From the Latin casula ("little house"), and is derived in design from a worker's cloak. A chasuble is a type of vestment worn by the celebrant during Communion.  It is a long, wide sleeveless vestment, poncho-like, usually oval when laid out flat, with an opening in the center to accommodate the celebrant's head.  It is of the liturgical Colour of the day or season and usually worn over all other vestments.

Chimere:  A long, sleeveless coat-like vestment worn by a bishop.  Usually black, though sometimes scarlet.

Cincture:  A rope, usually white, worn with the alb or cassock-alb, tied with a slip knot at the right side of the waist and allowed to hang down the right side. The ends of the rope may have either knots or tassels. This rope is sometimes called a girdle.

Colours:  Colour plays an import part in the designation of seasons and feasts in the Episcopal Church. Each church season has a Colour associated with it, and both vestments and altar cloths usually mirror the seasonal/festive Colour.

Red  To signify the presence of the Holy Spirit:


 on Pentecost

Feasts of Martyrs



during Holy Week (particularly Good Friday)

during Whitsuntide

White As the Colours of celebration:


 for weddings

on Feasts of our Lord

Feasts of Saints who were not martyrs

Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary

and in some places at the Burial of the Dead

Maundy Thursday (white)



during the Twelve Days of Christmas. 



Green As the Colour of growth:


 on the Sundays and Ordinary days of the Year after Epiphany and


Blue  In some places used (in honour of Mary) during Advent.


Purple or Violet As a Colour of penitence or preparation:


 during Lent 

Palm Sunday

Requiems or the Burial of the Dead



     Purple was originally a sign of royalty, as purple dye was rare. Thus, a purple clergy shirt (or some shade of violet) usually indicates that the wearer is a bishop, or else associated with one.


Black As a Colour of mourning:


 In some places for the Burial of the Dead and Requiems

Some congregations use this as well for Good Friday.

Collar, clerical:  A stiff round shirt collar worn by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and some Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and other clergy.  It is widely regarded as a sign or identifying mark of clerical status.

Cope:  A long cape, worn over the shoulders by the celebrant and others at various liturgies (processions, the Burial of the Dead, etc.), or by a bishop. It is usually of the liturgical Colour of the day or season, has a clasp at the chest and is worn over alb and stole or over cassock and surplice.

Cotta:  From Middle English meaning "to cover." A cotta is a short, white robe often worn by choir members and acolytes.

Crozier:  The bishop's staff ( a shepherd's crook) carried in a procession and held when giving the absolution or blessing.  Also known as the Pastoral Staff.

Crucifix:  From the Latin crux ("cross").  A crucifix is a cross bearing the likeness of the body of Christ on it.

Dalmatic:  Similar to the tunic and worn by the deacon.

Maniple:  A band of fabric, matching other vestments, used as a liturgical napkin. The maniple is worn draped over the celebrant's arm.  Not used much any more.

Mitre:  The tall, pointed liturgical hat worn by a bishop during formal worship. Its shape is said to be symbolic of the tongues of fire which rested on the original bishops at the first Pentecost.

Orphery:  An embroidered band on an ecclesiastical vestment or hanging.

Pectoral Cross:  Jeweled cross worn by a bishop to indicate his office.

Rochet:  A bishop's full-length white vestment similar to a surplice with full, gathered sleeves, and usually worn under a chimere.

Stole:  A long strip of cloth (often silk) worn around the neck and allowed to hang down the front of the clerical vestments, over the alb or surplice. Only bishops, priests and deacons are allowed to wear stoles, which are of the liturgical Colour of the day or season. 
     The priest wears the stole around the neck and hanging down in front (either crossed or straight). The deacon wears the stole over the left shoulder and crossed under the right arm, again either over an alb or surplice. 
     The stole is usually worn at all eucharistic services, weddings and funerals, but never worn at Morning Prayer services. The stole is said to represent the yoke of obedience to Christ.

Surplice:  A white over-garment with broad sleeves, worn over other vestments (usually a cassock).  The surplice and cassock are the traditional garments of the Anglican Church.  It is somewhat longer and fuller than a cotta. 

Tippet:  Black scarf worn by clergy during some services other than the Eucharist.

Tunic:  Also known as a tunicle.  A vestment with ample sleeves worn over an alb or cassock-alb of the same liturgical Colour as the vestments of the celebrant or some other festive Colour. This vestment is usually worn by the subdeacon, and may be worn by the crucifer on festive occasions.



This section deals with parts of the physical church building.  For more modern churches such as Good Shepherd, some of the terms are no longer clearly applicable, but you'll still hear some of these being used by people "in the know," or when you go visit the cathedral.


Aisle:  The center passage of a church building bisecting the pews, extending from the narthex to the chancel.  The procession is usually made up the Aisle.

Altar:  A table, usually in the sanctuary, on which the bread and wine used in the Communion service are consecrated. Also known as and referred to in the prayer book as the Holy Table.


Altar Rail:  The rail or kneelers where the people kneel or stand to receive Communion.  Also known as the Communion Rail.  Usually separates the nave from the chancel or sanctuary.  Some altar rails have an altar gate which is closed before Communion.

Ambo:  From the Greek for "both."  Formally speaking, common podium serving as both lectern and pulpit.  In practice, the term is used interchangeably for either, even if the church has both.


Ambulatory:  A side aisle in a church building, between the pews and the side walls, most often used for special processions.


Aumbry:  A box or cupboard in the wall of a church building or in a sacristy where the Reserved Sacrament and/or Holy Oil (such as chrism) is kept.  

Bishop's Chair:  A chair set apart in cathedrals and some churches, reserved especially for the bishop (sometimes called the Bishop's Throne or Cathedra). Also, a moveable chair or stool ("faldstool") used when the bishop is present and sits for various parts of the liturgy (confirmation, ordinations, etc.).


Carillon:  A set of church bells, generally found only in churches large enough to have a tower or steeple strong enough to support the weight of the many bells; some of the bells may weigh a ton or more.


Chancel:  From the Latin cancelli ("grating, lattice").  In classic church design, an area of pews, seats, stalls or prayer desks between the nave and the sanctuary, used by the ministers leading services and sometimes used by the choir (thus, it is sometimes known as the choir).

Architecture (continued)


Chapel:  From the Latin cappella ("cape").  When the kings of France went on military campaigns, they would carry the cape of St. Martin with them. The tent or other temporary structure that housed the cappella was called a chapel. 
     A chapel now often refers to a small building or room set apart for worship and meditation.  It may also refer to a place of worship lacking a parish congregation (although chapels may have a permanent clergyman), such as at hospitals, colleges, etc.  Chapels may be large or small, private or institutional.

Credence Table:  A small table or shelf that holds the bread, wine and water before consecration.

Crossing:  The main intersection of aisles at the front of the church building. If viewed from above, these aisles form a large cross (see Transcept). 

Epistle side:  The side of the building from which the Epistle lesson is read, usually the right-hand side of the church building from the perspective of the congregation facing the altar.  The opposite is the Gospel side.

Font:  A basin for water to be used in church baptisms, usually in a stand.  Also known as the Baptismal Font.  Also, a fixed receptacle for holy water at the entrance to the church or in the sacristy.

Gospel side:  The Gospel side of the church is on the right-hand side of the priest when he is at the altar celebrating the Eucharist, which in most churches means the left-hand side of the church from the perspective of the congregation facing the altar.  The opposite is the Epistle side.  The Gospel is generally read from the pulpit on the Gospel side.  

Lectern:  From the Latin, lectrum, meaning "reading desk".  This is a raised platform used for reading prayers or scripture; usually located at the front of the nave, opposite the pulpit, on the epistle side.  The actual stand or podium is also referred to as the lectern, as well as being called the ambo.

Narthex: In Greek, the word literally means "a large fennel" (a tall herb).  The narthex is the entrance hall or foyer to the church, the enclosed area between the outside doors and the nave.  It's called by some denominations the vestibule.

Nave: The pew area of the church building, where the congregation sits, stands or kneels during public worship. The nave is more than an auditorium, where people listen, because worship involves everyone as participants.

   The word probably derives from the Latin navis ("ship").  In older churches the beams of the roof resembled the beams and timbers in the sides of a ship.
     In medieval England the derogatory term "knave" (commoner) developed from nave, because the nave is the area of the building where the "common" people sit.

Pace:  A small aisle or passage way off the main nave aisle in a church.

Parish Hall/House:  A gathering place for a local congregation separate from the church building or sanctuary.

Piscina:  A sink for washing the vessels used at the Eucharist and for reverently disposing of wine that has been consecrated. The piscina does not drain into a sewer or disposal system, but directly into the ground.

Prie-dieu - An individual kneeling bench with shelf.  Also known as a. prayer desk.

Pulpit:  From the Latin pulpitum ("platform").  A raised platform or podium used for the sermon or homily, generally located in the front of the gospel side of the nave.  In some Colonial church buildings and in many non-Episcopal churches, the pulpit is in the center, to signify the importance of the sermon.

Reredos:  Pronounced, "rear-re-doss", this is any decoration behind or above an altar; it may be in the form of statues, screens, or tapestries.

Retable:  Also called a gradine, the retable is a narrow shelf located behind an altar that is placed against the wall. Candles and flowers are sometimes placed on the retable. The retable is also sometimes used to house a tabernacle.

Sacristy:  A room where the communion vessels, altar hangings, candlesticks, etc. are kept and cleaned.  Often also serves as the room where the clergy don their vestments before a service.

Sanctuary: From the Latin sanctus  ("holy").  Strictly speaking, it is the area immediately surrounding the altar, sometimes set apart from the nave by the chancel, and/or enclosed by an altar rail. In some denominations the word refers to the entire worship space.
Sanctuary Lamp:  
A lamp hanging somewhere in the sanctuary, also called a Sacrament Lamp.  Sometimes there are three lamps, sometimes seven, but usually only one. 
     The sanctuary lamp is kept lit to indicate the presence of the Reserved Sacrament.

Sedilia:  The seats inside the sanctuary, used by clergy and acolytes.  There is usually a central chair where the celebrant sits (sometimes called the President's Chair), and flanking chairs for other ministers.

Tabernacle:  A small cabinet (sometimes a vessel) designed to contain the Reserved Sacrament. The tabernacle may be found built into the altar, sitting on the altar, on the retable, or it may be built into another part of the sanctuary  in this case, it is also known as an aumbry. 

Transept:  The section of a cross-shaped (cruciform) church at right angles to the nave.  Where the transept cross the main aisle is known as the crossing.  
     Transept is also the name for the aisle in front of the first pew that separates the nave from the chancel.     

Vestibule:  The entrance hall, also called the narthex.







Church Vocabulary
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